handwashingOCD is hard to explain to anyone who doesn’t have it. Admittedly I did not fully understand the disease until I started suffering from it. The funny thing is that even once you understand more about OCD, it still doesn’t make it seem any more logical. There is something remarkably terrifying about not being able to trust your own thoughts. Think about it: if you have gone your entire life not questioning the validity of your thoughts, why would you suddenly start when the OCD thoughts start flooding in? I mean, if these OCD thoughts are false, made out of biology, then what thoughts are real? You can go down the rabbit hole with that one. I thought I would address some common misconceptions about OCD and share some of my own experiences.

Misconception 1: Doing the ritual brings about some sort of “happiness” to the person who suffers from OCD.

In short, it doesn’t. My OCD manifests in hand washing and it isn’t something that I look forward to. That is hard for people, especially my family, in the beginning to understand. Doing the ritual is painful because in your mind you know it isn’t something that you are “supposed” to do, but you can’t stop. If you do attempt to stop, you have these thoughts that circle over and over again in your brain telling you to complete that ritual. The book Brain Lock describes it as the brain being “stuck in an inappropriate groove.” Obviously it is hard to go about your every day activities when those thoughts are battling out whatever else your brain needs to think about (school, work, creative thoughts). You find yourself thinking more about the germs on your hands than how much fun you are having with your boyfriend/your twin sister/your BFF. That is not a great way to live.

Misconception 2: there is a cure for OCD

Sadly, that isn’t the case. Sure, you can curb those thoughts and rituals, but it is very rare to be completely rid of OCD. I think that is what is the most frustrating part for me. When I first started getting treatment, my family kept checking in to see if I was cured. As if, in a few short months, I would be back to normal again. When I was not, they assumed it was because I wasn’t trying hard enough. I admit even I thought that it would be easier to overcome. It takes work and a lot of time. Plus you can still find yourself falling back into the old rituals. You have to be strong enough to recognize that setbacks happen and then continue on with treatment.

Okay, now let’s talk about what has helped me.

  • Keeping a notebook. Writing down all your rituals and things that trigger your OCD is enlightening. There is something powerful about seeing it all down on paper, especially if you are a visual person.
  • The OCD Workbook has some helpful exercises in it, especially if you are just starting to tackle OCD.
  • Setting own goals and sticking to them. For example, giving yourself 10 minutes per day to wash your hands one week and then lowering that number to 5 the following week, and so on…
  • Reminding yourself that “it isn’t me–it is my OCD.”

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